Friday, January 29, 2016

The X-Files: Season 10, Episode 1 - "My Struggle"

I do believe it was around the end of Season 6 that I finally checked out of The X-Files. I enjoyed the first few seasons of the lauded series and LOVED the first film (don’t ask me about the second one or I will unfriend you) but after that it seemed to turn stale. Once David Duchovny left at the end of season 7 I knew I had made the right decision. I mean, if one of the two main stars was bailing on it, why shouldn’t I? Without him it just wouldn’t be the same. 

So here we are. It’s been 14 years since the show ended its run and a limited series revival has begun. Is it good enough to bring me back into the fold?

The new series picks up with a television host (Joel McHale) contacting former FBI agents Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Mulder (David Duchovny) in regards to an alien conspiracy he has uncovered within the US government and plans to go public with on his show.
I will admit that this new series had me surprisingly invested at the start with its interesting set-up and a very convincing performance from an unorthodox casting choice – Joel McHale (Community, The Soup). The script from writer/director/series creator Chris Carter moves at lightning speed to not only catch us up on what’s been going on with Mulder and Scully in the interim (thankfully this series seems to be ignoring the existence of I Want To Believe) but to re-thrust the characters into the overall mythology as quickly as possible. It works, but I did have some issues with the presentation.

My main beef is that the series expects, no, requires that the viewers know every single detail of the alien colonization plot that was the bread and butter of the original run. Each. And. Every. Detail. It’s been a while since I re-watched the show, but I managed to get by. Newbies on the other hand will be completely lost. I’m sure this series was made for the fans, but there is an untapped audience out there that could become potential viewers should the series continue. I don’t foresee anyone that’s not already an X-Phile sticking with the show past this pilot episode. 

Another gripe is with Mulder. In the original show he was prone to believing in whatever situation he and his partner happened to find themselves in without hesitation. Giant flukeworm monster. Yes. A dude can predict the day of his own death and the deaths of others. Of course. Bees are being used to carry a parasitic alien virus that will impregnate the human population with otherworldly beings. Why not. But never in a million years would I buy the fact that one girl would be able to spin a tale so ridiculous to Mulder that he would throw out everything he knows to be true and has experienced personally. It almost felt insulting, as if Carter was trying to purposely move away from the alien colonization storyline once and for all, just as he did during the Duchovny-less years with that super soldier crap, by having one of the main characters spit on his own beliefs. When Mulder started preaching to Scully about how, “We’ve all been lied to!” I inwardly groaned, as did Scully during those scenes. 

Outside of that, I found this to be a somewhat successful return for The X-Files. I really enjoyed the interplay between Mulder and Scully, all the sights we are given access to that revolve around the mythology plotline were cool and fun (loved the UFO hybrid ship that can fold space), and it left me feeling a little excited to see where the show is headed during its limited run.

However, I do feel that series creators need to stop directing their own shows. Vince Gilligan (formerly of The X-Files) directed several key episodes of Breaking Bad. Joss Whedon helmed various episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse and Agents of SHIELD. And Chris Carter joins the ever-growing list (he also directed I Want to Believe). Some made the transition successfully. Actually everyone I mentioned has… except Chris Carter. I have no problem with him personally, but Carter has absolutely no visual style. This episode is boring to look at despite all the cool events going on and the chemistry of the two main stars. It’s almost like he pulled a George Lucas and just said “Stand there and you know the rest” to his actors. Let the people who actually have experience take the reigns please. With other modern day television shows looking more like big budget Hollywood fare The X-Files feels like a relic of the past in the visual department.
But like I said, I kind of enjoyed the episode as a whole despite its faults. Sure there are things that bugged me. I’m a longtime fan. Of course things will seem out of place and awkward after all this time goes by. It will never be EXACTLY the same as the original. The actors have aged considerably, technology has improved, storytelling techniques for television have evolved and the way people watch television has even changed completely. Just like the original run, I’m sure this will settle into a groove just fine. I’m just glad the show is back where it belongs. But 6 episodes?! 6?! Really? Agent Carter is getting 10 episodes (I’m not digging on the current season so if it ends here I’ll be okay with it), but The X-Files only gets 6. Lamesauce.

But please, Chris Carter, no more movies. I was shocked to see how many millions of people tuned in for this premiere episode despite the quality of The X-Files: I Want to Believe. In fact, I’m surprised I even watched it after that joke of a flick. But will The X-Files return to television again if this run is a huge hit? Only time will tell.

2.5 out of 5

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Revenant

While on vacation in Los Angeles in mid/late December I had the opportunity so see a bunch of new movies. One of which was The Revenant.  At the time I was visiting the film was only playing in theaters in L.A. and New York, so I took advantage of this in full.

All the hype about the level of violence featured in The Revenant before its release really piqued my curiosity. I know that sounds morbid, but I took the comments as a cheap way for the advertising people at 20th Century Fox to get audiences worked up about their big budget art film, because we all crave a good trainwreck once in a while. I wanted to see if the movie really lived up to what the claims were making it out to be.

Boy howdy, is this movie tough to watch. It’s also more than a little amazing.
The Revenant is based on the true story of frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his battle to survive after being left for dead by his crew due to a brutal bear mauling while on a fur trading expedition and his quest for revenge against the man (Tom Hardy) that murdered his son (Forrest Goodluck) in cold blood.

I want to get the violence aspect out of the way first. Yes, this film is horrifically violent. It’s extremely hard to watch in some spots. Specifically the scene involving the horse. However, most of the nastiest bits are left just out of view. Sure the bear mauling is disgusting, but we only really see outright gore once. It’s the sound effects and DiCaprio’s performance that really sells the brutality of the scene. The whole movie is structured like that. Some of the events that these characters partake in are disgusting in various ways, but what our imaginations conjure up in place of what isn’t fully seen is way worse. Genius move. But that horse scene is… oh, man. So gross.
But the main reason to venture out into the cold weather this winter and see this film is the outstanding performances from absolutely everyone in the cast. I feel Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception, Titanic, The Beach) will finally win that much deserved Oscar for his portrayal as Glass. He gives his part such a quiet intensity since his character doesn’t talk much and has to sell all his pent up rage and sadness through facial expressions and body language. He is phenomenal in the part, and even had to forgo his vegetarianism at one point to eat a fresh bison liver on camera. Because dedication. Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road, Bronson, Star Trek: Nemesis) is good at playing rotten assholes, and as John Fitzgerald he goes for broke and plays him as the sleaziest, most dislikable and self-centered bastard of all time. You just love to hate him. I also enjoyed Domhnall Gleeson and especially Will Poulter in their parts. Who knew that the kid who was bitten on the nuts by a tarantula in We’re the Millers had dramatic acting chops like this within?!

I really wanted to discuss the look of the film, because I had no idea that it was shot completely with natural light while I was watching it. I thought there was some kind of post-production filter added to give the footage a bleak, cold feeling. Nope. Overcast days in the winter were all they needed to pull that look off and it adds so much to the atmosphere of the piece. All the locations are starkly beautiful and the way Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Children of Men) shoots them with the natural light actually immersed me in the film more than usual. It made it more realistic feeling because that’s what I see day to day during the winter, not some super bright and perfectly lit wonderland. I hope more filmmakers adopt this style of lighting in the future. I’m sure it’s a bitch to work with, as nature usually is, but it's immensely impressive when utilized correctly.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman or [The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance], 21 Grams) sounds like an absolute madman the more I read about him. Framing his previous movie as one continuous shot (broken up by various undetectable means) is impressive, and there is another excellent example of this during the native's assault on the trading camp at the top of the movie, but wanting to shoot his big budget wilderness film with all natural light during the winter when the days are shorter, then uproot your entire production from Canada because you are behind schedule and summer is approaching all the way to southern Argentina where it is still a winter wonderland is more than a little cray cray. But I suspect there is a method to his madness, because he keeps impressing me with every movie he unleashes upon audiences. He has yet to repeat himself like most directors seem to nowadays (I like Michael Bay and all, but can he please make a movie that isn’t a super contrasty explosionfest for a change?), and seems to want to up his game with each new project. We all know he wrangles fantastic performances out of his actors, but he also knows how to tell stories that are both visually stunning as well as thematically moving. I might not have been a big fan of his in the last decade (I found 21 Grams and Babel to be boring in the extreme), but he’s really hit his stride in the teens. I look forward to what he does next for sure.

The script by Mark L. Smith and Alejandro González Iñárritu, based off Michael Punke’s novel of the same name, changes a lot of the details of the true story of Hugh Glass (i.e. the story took place during the spring and Glass had to contend with his mauled flesh rotting in the sun), but it works spectacularly for the film. We really get to see what makes the two main characters tick, why they are the way they are and what motivates them to do the things they do. We understand why Fitzgerald wants to leave Glass behind, because sitting around waiting for help isn’t going to get him paid. Especially if the natives hot on the party’s trail catch up to them and make them dead. Can you really blame him? How he goes about it ends up being one of the most heinous acts of douchebaggery I’ve seen on film. And he continues to keep digging a deeper grave for himself the further the story progresses due to his self-destructive nature and selfish ways. In the case of Glass, even though he’s on a quest for revenge he still manages to discover how the disrespect of nature will ruin you, like Fitzgerald, and sometimes revenge is the best motivation to persevere and never give up. Not even when you’re knocking on death’s door. And then sometimes you just need to straight up merc the motherfucker who murdered your son. I liked all the parallels drawn between the protagonist and the antagonist, and how each had a completely different outlook on life and how they benefit from it/suffer for it in different ways.
Sure the movie gets a little long in the tooth in the middle with long drawn out shots of DiCaprio staring blankly out into the wilderness. Yeah, I get it. He knows he’s fucked. Stop ramming it down out throats. I also don’t think that Glass’ wounds would heal so fast. In the real story it took Glass months to crawl back to civilization. The film makes it look like a matter of days. And all the stuff that happens to him on the trip back to the fur trader camp would have reopened and reinjured him multiple times over, yet it never seems to happen. Gotta call BS.

Minor issues aside, The Revenant is one of the best movies I saw in 2015. I wasn’t sure if it would be my cup of tea, but sometimes you need a movie that’s as reflective as it is brutal. The Revenant certainly qualifies in that regard. It’s fantastically engaging and I now sing its praises to anyone who will listen. Although I don’t think it’s a movie I will want to watch again any time soon. It’s that heavy.

4.5 out of 5

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Best and Worst Films of 2015

Alright, Ladies and Gents, the Geektastic Film Reviews vacation is officially over. And what is one to do when you run a blog that features reviews of (mainly) movies at the beginning of a new year? You make a top ten list of flicks from the previous year, that’s what. Because tradition. Yup.

I saw some amazing movies and some absolute trash in 2015, but that can summarize the film scene of any year. Regardless, these are my picks and mine alone. If you see a movie you didn’t like in the #1 spot please don’t pitch a hissy. This is only my opinion featured here and not the final word on the subject.

Additionally, I have not seen every movie released this past year (believe me, I tried), and there will be a few flicks listed that I have not reviewed on this blog (yet) that I saw over my vacation.

Also, I rarely base my opinions on how well made or "important" a movie is. I go by how much I was entertained by or moved by a particular film (and for those that know me well, I really just want to be "entertained" by a film). So here we go... 

Geektastic Film Reviews’ Top Ten Films of 2015:
10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
9. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
8. The Hateful Eight
7. Predestination
6. Furious 7
5. The Gift
4. Ex Machina
3. The Martian
2. The Revenant
1. Mad Max: Fury Road 

Honorable Mentions: Ant-Man, Jupiter Ascending, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Insidious 3, Terminator: Genisys, Pixels, The Last Witch Hunter, The Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Run All Night 

Geektastic Film Reviews’ Ten Worst Films of 2015:
10. The Avengers: Age of Ultron
9. Hitman: Agent 47
8. Crimson Peak
7. Taken 3
6. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
5. Spy
4. Poltergeist
3. Spectre
2. Freaks of Nature
1. Star Trek: Renegades 

Dishonorable Mentions: Chappie, Jurassic World, Tremors 5: Bloodlines, Fantastic Four, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, The Ridiculous 6, Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist, Vacation, Kung Fury

 Most Anticipated Films of 2016:
10. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
9. Hail, Caesar!
8. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
7. Assassin’s Creed
6. Deadpool
5. X-Men: Apocalypse
4. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
3. Doctor Strange
2. Captain America: Civil War
1. Star Trek: Beyond 

Least Anticipated Films of 2016:
10. Ride Along 2
9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
8. Angry Birds: The Movie
7. Alice: Through the Looking Glass
6. Finding Dory
5. Pete’s Dragon
4. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
3. London Has Fallen
2. Cabin Fever
1. Ghostbusters

Well, there you have it. It was hard picking some of these movies for each list as there were so many to choose from, but these are my final choices. Feel free to share your favorite/least favorite films of 2015 in the comment section below. I would love to hear from you!